Park plans unveiled at Village of Gowanda Board meeting
Michael Hutchinson and Joseph Vogtli of the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corporation (GARC) gave a brief history and timeline of the process that will convert the former Peter Cooper Corporation’s 26-acre glue factory site into a passive/active recreation area. The park will provide more than 2,700 feet of waterfront property for baseball, softball and soccer fields, as well as hiking trails, fishing and small boat access, and other outdoor recreation activities. It is the culmination of a nearly 15-year effort by various levels of government and the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) Schools of Law and Engineering to clean up the site for public use.
Industrial activity on the site began with the construction of Eastern Tanners Glue Company in 1904. Businessman Richard Wilhelm took waste products from tanneries throughout the Northeast and made adhesives from animal proteins. Later, Eastern Tanners became a division of Peter Cooper Corporation and operated until the early 1970s when, unable to meet air and water pollution control standards, they ceased operations. Its successor, Rousselot, S.A. of France, continued making synthetic glue until the plant closed in 1985. “When they left here, they left some environmental legacy behind,” Hutchinson said. The waste was left on-site in a landfill, where the company dumped a toxic mix known as “cookhouse sludge,” a combination of organic and animal waste, chromium, arsenic, lead and zinc used in animal glue production, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), trichloroethylene (TCE), and other industrial solvents from the synthetic operations.
Because of the harmful chemicals left behind, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the site to its National Priorities List, or Superfund List, on March 6, 1998. Studies by the EPA and its contractors showed that buried waste was becoming exposed, a concrete retaining wall along Cattaraugus Creek had collapsed, and contaminants were seeping into the creek. These chemicals were detected in subsurface soil and groundwater, and public use of the landfill site, including off-road vehicular traffic, posed a risk to public health and safety.
To prevent contaminants from reaching the creek, the EPA in 1997 ordered New York State Electric & Gas Corp., owner of part of the landfill site, to build a retaining wall along the creek. In 2005, EPA ordered cleanup of the site, which involved excavating and consolidating contaminated soil and liquid waste in the landfill, managing gases venting from it, and keeping groundwater from entering the landfill. Any groundwater passing through the landfill is collected in trenches, treated and pumped to the village’s wastewater treatment plant on Aldrich Street.
After the landfill site was secured, the rest of the land was cleared of trees, brush and debris starting in 2009, and partly covered with soil. A driveway of milled asphalt was laid down and a concrete wall at the upper end of the property was breached to provide creek access for fisherman and boaters. In March 2012, approximately 30,000 cubic yards of silt from Gernatt‘s gravel washing lagoon off High Street was delivered to the site. This will be used to cover the entire factory location, exclusive of the landfill, with one to two feet of soil. This phase will begin in the spring of 2013.
The project is being managed by GARC, in partnership with the Village of Gowanda, Cattaraugus County and the Town of Persia. Hutchinson explained how it is being funded. “We found the trust account [owned by the Wilhelm descendants] that had $53 million in it. EPA froze the trust, limited disbursements at 8 percent, and before we knew it, the PRPs, or the Potential Responsible Parties, the 13 tanneries, came to the table and said, ‘We’d like to clean this up,’ because they couldn’t get their money,” he said.
“So we made a deal with the PRPs,” Hutchinson continued. “They funded the remediation to the tune of about $2.5 million, and they also agreed that they would fund some re-use effort at the site, and they would fund the long-term remediation, the cost to run the treatment units. So they set up a trust account and they reimbursed the village for any maintenance and operations at the site.”
Hutchinson said the PRPs reimbursed the village and all the volunteers, including GARC, for administrative expenses incurred in getting federal and state agencies involved. “They gave us $60,000 in administrative fees for our prior efforts, and gave GARC $350,000 as seed money for site re-use,” he said. “So that’s what we used for our local share of grants. Currently we have two grants. We have a design grant [for $76,000 with a 25 percent matching share paid for with the PRP money], and we have a $250,000 construction grant from New York State Parks and Recreation [with no matching funds required].”
Edward Schiller of TVGA Consultants said they were in the design stage of the first part of the park. “We are taking the UB concept and refining it,” he said. The next stage involves covering the site with the High Street material and grading and preparing the site for the ball fields and other features of the park. This should begin as soon as weather permits in the spring. Cattaraugus County and the Town of Persia will assist the village with this work.
Molly Vendura of Peter J. Smith & Co. then described the park using a large concept drawing of the site. Starting at the lower or western end, a gateway entrance will be located opposite the end of Broadway Road, with diagonal parking for approximately 33 cars, extending east along Palmer Street to a second gateway with 17 more parking spaces in an arc. Extending from there straight back to a creekside overlook along a hiking trail that loops around the entire park, there will be a gazebo with lawn seating, basketball court and children’s playground. The far west end of the park will have a sledding hill for winter use. A Frisbee golf course will be incorporated along the park trail.
Continuing east from the second gateway, two ball fields will be separated by a plaza and ice-skating rink. Facing the plaza will be an amphitheater for concerts, with an overlook behind it, and a walkway or ramp providing creek access and seating. The west softball field will run 275 feet from home plate to the edge of the outfield along the first and third base lines. This can be used for slow-pitch or fast-pitch softball, as well as Little League baseball. Two youth soccer fields will be superimposed across the outfield. The east field will be shorter, with 205 feet along the lines, suitable for fast-pitch softball and Little League baseball. A concession building in front of the plaza/ice rink, and between the two ball diamonds, will contain restrooms, a food service area, and storage space. It will also have a kiosk with interpretive displays and photographs depicting the history of the site.
The eastern, or upper end, will be reserved for informal play and passive recreation. A picnic grove at the east end will lead to another creek overlook with tables or benches. The far eastern end will have a driveway with a bus loop leading to a stairway and ramp for creek access. There will be automobile parking in this area. A one-acre parcel will be excluded from the contract area and reserved for commercial use. This is to separate this area from the public, not-for-profit usage of the park. Possible uses of this area include licensed food vendors, bait and tackle for fishermen, or commercial rafting or kayaking.
Hutchinson recalled the many years of effort to bring this once-polluted industrial property to its rebirth as a multi-use recreational park along one of the most scenic places in the village. He personally commended the late Bruce W. Musacchio, who as village attorney was relentless in his efforts to have the old glue factory site cleaned up and put to use for the enjoyment of the community. While more preliminary work needs to be done, such as a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), and re-zoning of the industrial land, Gowanda is well on the way to having Musacchio’s dream come true. “You will see a lot of activity there this year,” Hutchinson said. “If anything, we’ll have grass growing on it by the end of the summer.” He stated that another round of New York State grant applications is coming up this spring, and he is confident of the park’s ultimate success.